10 Best Places to Camp in the AZ Desert

                             One of the tents we set up for our AOA camps at Dead Horse State Park.

I recall one time being asked why anyone would want to camp in the desert. I didn’t have a good answer because I couldn’t think of one reason why someone would NOT want to camp in the desert.   Reflecting on it later, I suppose these folks don’t know what they are missing.  You shouldn’t  judge  a desert by it’s exterior.  Some may think of the desert as being a dry and ugly place with thorny cacti ridden with rattlesnakes and scorpions. However, if candy can be made from the fruit of a cacti, and birds can nest in a Cholla, then how could anyone not like the desert?

Yes- it’s very different from camping in the forest, but the desert has its own majestic qualities.   If you don’t like camping in the snow, then desert camping is ideal.  This type of environment makes it pretty comfortable to camp during the winter months (with the exception of one place- may need an RV).  You will see that I listed the highs and lows for each campground. 

To provide variety and encourage you to explore,  I included two desert year round campgrounds from each region in AZ.

River Country

The River Country is primarily centered around the Colorado River which is the defining feature in this Northwestern desert and mountainous area.

The dams created from the Colorado formed Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, Lake Havasu, and Imperial Reservoir.  National wildlife refuges along the river provide excellent opportunities for bird watching, fishing and wildlife viewing.  The majority of campgrounds in this area are along the river and the lakes as well as in the desert.  

In general, between BLM and the state parks system, there are numerous campgrounds- and the vastness of the public lands means you can enjoy dispersed camping in complete solitude.  For the purpose of this article, I focused solely on the desert type campgrounds that are open year round.

Davis County Park

Here you get the best of both worlds – desert and the water.  This Desert campground is on the Colorado River just below Davis Dam where you can fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass. 

  • Average temp: Lowest temp is in December-45 degrees, hottest is 107 in July (Average rain 11 days per year).
  • Cost: $20 per night/vehicle 
  • Accommodates:  Tent vs RV.  Can also rent jet skis if you’d rather play on the water.
  • Sites: 175 tent and RV- full hook ups
  • Stay Limit:  14 Days
  • Location:  Bullhead City, on the Colorado River
  • Management:   Mohave County Park, (928) 757-0916 or visit the Mohave County website.

>>>>10 Best Campgrounds to Camp & Fish>>>>>

Temple Bar

This is a great campground for those who prefer more convenience.  At 1400 feet elevation, Temple Bar is located located on Lake Mead in the Mohave Desert.  One of the more popular recreational activities here is fishing. The lake includes largemouth bass, striped bass, rainbow trout, channel catfish, crappie and bluegill.  Water sports are available as well including-boating, sailing, kayaking, and canoeing.  A full service marina and boat rentals are located at Temple Bar.

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is in Jan/Dec-37 degrees, hottest is 109 in July (Average rain of 15 days per year). 
  • Cost: $10 per night/vehicle
  • Sites: 153 Tent and RV- no Hook ups
  • Amenities:  Tables, grills, fire rings, full service restaurant and store
  • Stay Limit:  30 days
  • Location:  About 80 miles North of Kingman- on Lake Mead
  • Management:   Lake Mead National Recreation Area (702) 293-8907, or NPS Website.

Valley of the Sun

                       Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park-Apache Junction, AZ

Phoenix and the surrounding cities have more than 2 million people- more than half the State’s population. With so many urban areas, it’s hard to believe there would be camping that is easily accessible and in some instances, remote.  The desert valley is surrounded by 2.9 million acres of the Tonto National Forest- which is one of the largest in the country.  There are numerous campgrounds throughout the  Regional County Parks & State Parks in the Phoenix area to go hiking, mountain biking and wildlife viewing. 

>>>>Stay Cool with AZ Tshirts<<<<<<

There are 13 official campgrounds in the Phoenix Valley that are open year round.  The two that I chose to write about have beautiful scenery, convenient to get to and are great for families.

Lost Dutchman State Park

This park is located in the Sonora Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction, AZ.  If you like to hike, then I highly suggest this campground. It has numerous hiking trails of varying levels of difficulty and beautiful panoramic views from the top.

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is in Dec- 44 degrees, hottest is 106 in July (Average rain of  18 days per year). 
  • Cost: $25-$35 per night, $7 entrance fee
  • Sites: 138 Campsites- Tent and RV- (50/30/20 amp service)
  • Amenities:  picnic table, fire pit, and grill grate
  • Stay Limit:  14 days
  • Location:  From Apache Junction, go North for 5 miles on Highway 88
  • Management:   Lost Dutchman State Park, (480) 982-4455, or the State Parks website

>>>>Top 10 Best Campgrounds to Camp & Hike<<<<<

White Tanks Mountain Regional Park

Located in the Sonoran Desert, the 30,000 acres in the White Tanks makes up the largest regional park in Maricopa County.   The majority of the park is made up of the rugged White Tank Mountains.  There are 29 miles of trails to explore through hiking, mountain biking or on Horse back.  

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is in Dec- 35 degrees, hottest is 101 in July (Average rain of  15 days per year).
  • Cost: $22 -$32 per night
  • Sites: 40 Tent, 37 RV
  • Amenities:  Picnic table, fire ring, grills, restrooms and RV Dump Station
  • Stay Limit:  14 days
  • Location:  33 Miles west of Phoenix, in the foothills of the White Tank Mountains.
  • Management:   Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department (623) 935-2505, or visit the Maricopa County Parks website.
  •  

Indian Country

Photo Credit: Grand Canyon Trust

This vast country is part of the Colorado Plateau; Lake Powell on side and the San Juan River on the other.  This land is home  of the Najavo Nation- the largest Native American Reservation in the US. Many Navajos today still herd sheep, goats, cattles and horses. Most live in more modern homes, but there are some that live in traditional mud and wood hogans.  Authentic hogan experiences are available through the Discover Navajo website.

Homovoli State Park

The name Homolovi” is Hopi for “Place of the Little Hills” and is the traditional name for Winslow, Arizona. Homovoli  State Park is famous for it’s incredible beauty. Known as the Painted Desert, just like it sounds it is full of vibrant colors, with gently rolling plateaus. The shale and sandstone rocks are pastel colors which change subtly depending on the light.  Other nearby places of interest include Meteor Crater (best preserved impact crater on earth) and the Petrified Forest National Park.

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is in Dec- 48  degrees, hottest is 94 degrees in July (Average 24 days of rain per year). 
  • Cost: $18-$30 per night, $7 Entrance Fee
  • Sites: 53 Tent & RV, Electric & Water Hookups
  • Amenities:  Picnic area, tables, showers, restrooms, water, pets are allowed, and recreational trails
  • Stay Limit:  14 Days
  • Location: Located 6 miles east of Winslow in the Painted
  • Management:   Homolovi Ruins State Park, (928) 289-4106, or visit Arizona State Parks website.

Cottonwood

This campground is the perfect spot for exploring Canyon de Chelly National Monument- which is one of the most visited monuments in the US.  Archeologists believe that humans settled in this canyon dating back to more than 5,000 years ago.  This land is owned by the Najavo Tribe, covers 83, 84 acres, and have vibrant red cliffs that rise up to 1,000 ft.


“Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia cactaceae) and pinyon are also found throughout Canyon de Chelly, the latter of which provided an important source of food for indigenous peoples in autumn and winter”

From this campground you can take a trail leading to the famous White House Ruins and other longer more intense hiking is led by Navajo guides.  If you want to make your camping easier and not worry about packing food, the Thunderbird Lodge is within walking distance.

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is in Dec- 17  degrees, hottest is 91  in July (Average rain of  33 days per year). 
  • Cost: $14-$50 per night
  • Sites: 90 Individual campsites, 2 Group Sites, RV’s- no more than 40 feet
  • Amenities:  Picnic table, grills, restrooms w/sinks and toilets (no showers), dumpstation
  • Stay Limit: 14 days
  • Location:  Near Chinle, at Canyon de Chelly Monument
  • Management:   Canyon de Chelly National Monument, (928) 674-5510, or visit the NPS website.

>>>>Learn more about the Arizona Sonora Desert->>>>

Old West Country

This country includes the grassy valleys and the high mountains of southeast Arizona; where there are campgrounds both in the mountains and the desert.  This diversity lends itself to an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and just exploring.  

Coyote Howls Park

Coyote Howles is a no fee dispersed campground in the Sonoran Desert, near Why AZ and makes a great base for exploring Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  There are a high number of campsites, so this place gets very busy during the winter months.  Aside from visiting the National Monument other things to do include rock climbing, bird watching, hiking and mountain biking.

>>>>Learn why this town is named Why<<<<<

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is in Dec- 45 degrees, hottest is 103 in July (Average rain of  16 days per year). 
  • Cost: $10 daily rate, $42 Weekly Rate
  • Sites: 600 Tent & RV, Full hook ups
  • Amenities:  showers, laundry facility, restrooms
  • Location: Near the town of Why, AZ   
  • Management:   Town of Why (520) 387-9973, or visit the Coyote Howls website

Gilbert Ray

This is a great place to begin your adventures in the Saguaro National Park (which does not have campgrounds-only backcountry camping).  During the spring, the desert becomes alive with colorful wildflowers.  Tucson is home to the largest cacti in the Nation which are protected by the Saguaro National Park.

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is in Dec- 42 degrees, hottest is 100 in July (Average rain of  28 days per year). 
  • Cost: Tents- $10 per night, RV-$20
  • Sites: 130 RV Sites, 5 Tent -electrical hookups
  • Amenities:  water, picnic tables, restrooms, rv dump station (no showers)
  • Stay Limit:  7 days
  • Location: 10 miles west of Tucson in the Tucson Mountains.
  • Management:   Tucson Mountain Park, (520) 877-6006, or visit the Pima County website.

High Country

Apache Lake, AZ

This section of Arizona is a paradise for the outdoor recreation enthusiast. The name can be misleading since it includes almost two vertical miles of elevation ranging from 2,000 feet in the Sonoran Desert to Mt. Baldy in the White Mountains at 11,000 feet. The two National Forests that comprise this area include Tonto and Apache Sitgreaves. Between the mountain lakes and the Salt River Canyon, you can enjoy fishing, boating, paddling and other water sports.

Burnt Corral

A long dirt road will get you into this low elevation desert campground. There are plenty of spaces where you can camp right on the shore of the lake with room to spread out. You can take your boat out, go fishing, watch the wildlife or just relax and read a book next to the lake.

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is 41 in Jan-  degrees, hottest is  105 in July (Average rain of 19 days per year). 
  • Cost: $20 per night for single unit, $40 per night for double
  • Sites: 82 camp units, Tent & RV, & No electric hookups
  • Amenities:  picnic tables, compost and vault toilets, water hydrant
  • Stay Limit:  14 days
  • Location: 38 miles northwest of Globe, on Apache Lake
  • Management:   Tonto National Forest, (928) 467-3200, or visit the NF website.

Schoolhouse

This is another desert campground- this time on the eastern shore of Theodore Roosevelt Lake. This is a year round campground but will close occasionally if the water drops below 2,110 feet. The  boat launch and access point to the Salt River makes it easy to go fishing and boating, or you can go hiking along the shore line. 

  • Average temp:  Lowest temp is in Jan-57 degrees, hottest is 97 in July (Average rain of  37 days per year). 
  • Cost: $20 per night for single unit, $40 per night for double
  • Sites: 40 camp units
  • Amenities:  toilets, fire rings with grills, picnic tables, potable water hydrants, amphitheater
  • Stay Limit:  14 days
  • Location:  About 20 miles west of Globe, east end of Roosevelt Lake
  • Management:  Tonto National Forest, (928) 467-3200, or visit the NF Website.

Summary

Arizona has an abundance of desert camping opportunities! You could spend years camping all over the state and see beautiful and amazing places. I love nothing more than to see families and friends go camping together, so my hope is that this article inspires you to get out the door and go somewhere new! I do my best to provide accurate resources and information. Please let me know if you see content that needs revised. Thank you.

If you have another favorite desert campground you’d like to share, please leave a comment below!

Happy Camping!

More articles from ACE:

2 Responses

  1. Parameter

    I never thought of camping in the desert, but coming across your writing, I begin to feel this will be worthwhile. Going by your review, although the Lost Dutchman charges and entrance fee of 7 uSD, and a little bit high per night fee of 25 – 35 USD, but the hiking environment, grill gate, and picnc table makes me feel it will be fun filled for me

    • Misty

      Thanks for taking the time to reply! Glad to hear that you are rethinking your perspective on the desert.  Yes- the fees can be high. It goes towards the maintenance and care costs so that people can enjoy camping in these beautiful places.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *